by Tina Howe
May 4 - 26, 2001
Directed by Jo Perryman
Long-distance swimming is about perseverance. In Tina Howe's fictional biography of an American woman who swam the English Channel, the distance is also the long life of Mabel Tidings Bigelow in "Pride's Crossing."
- Tina Howe's comedy-drama, voted Best American Play of 1998 by the New York Drama Critics'
When we first meet Mabel she is in her nineties. Rather deaf, she moves with the aid of a walker and now lives in modest circumstances in what was once the chauffeur's cottage of her old family estate in Pride's Crossing, Massachusetts.
On this Fourth of July weekend she is being visited by her granddaughter and
great-granddaughter who live in Paris. In honor of their visit, Mabel decides to throw a croquet party on the lawn of the overgrown family home. It's the type of party that her wealthy Boston blue-blood relations would have once staged.
During the visit and preparations for the party, various items and spoken phrases trigger memories in Mabel's mind, and we see her relive experiences from the past eighty years of her life, which includes setting a world record for swimming the English Channel from Dover to Calais in 1928.
This daring feat was extremely unconventional for an upper class Yankee girl at a time when well-bred young ladies were expected to be demure. In the words of Mabel's mother, "I won't have this sort of behavior. . . .You are delicate."
Although Mabel seems to rise above the social confines of the times, we see, during the course of the play, that she never entirely escapes. Instead of following her heart, she remains in a socially proper, but loveless, abusive marriage, and still never satisfies her parents' expectations.
Nevertheless, the final portrait is of a lady of unquenchable high spirits and the play ends with a moment of great anticipation and promise.
Ultimately, Ms. Howe's "Pride's Crossing" imparts ideas about pursuing one's dream, about the family baggage we tote from generation to generation and about seizing the moment.
Ms. Howe has said: "I knew as the century ended I wanted to write a play celebrating the female spirit and endurance. I'm impressed with the passion of elderly women, and I wanted to show a woman whose spirit is still vibrant even if her body is not."
Although a 19-year-old New Yorker named
Gertrude Ederle swam the English Channel in 1926, beating every record on the books, Howe's play was actually inspired by her 90-year-old Aunt Maddy who never left home and never swam a stroke. She grew up in a household where women were expected to watch the world from the porch,
albeit a grand porch.
In her notes for the Broadway playbill, Tina Howe writes, "So this is
a replay for my beloved aunt. This time she rises like a phoenix above the porch, house, shoreline and all."